“THE HUNT” IS the latest film from Thomas Vinterberg, a director who started out the Dogme movement with his breakthrough work, “Festen”. It’s a gripping, brilliantly told drama about a kindergarten assistant, Lucas (the outstanding Mads Mikkelsen who we know as Le Chiffre from “Casino Royale”, and who was also recently the protagonist in the superb “A Royal Affair”) who has been accused of improper intimacy by one of his –six year old – students.
The accusation is so startlingly outrageous that Lucas is stunned by it. The child is the daughter of his best friend and someone he was especially caring toward. That this tender, morally upright man could be accused thus by the child, aggrieved by his admonishment of her, is absurd.
Unlike “Doubt”, another film about accusation, “The Hunt” is not about doubt. It’s a study in group hysteria. There’s an immediate – and absurd – assumption that, despite all that’s known about him, even by the friends he’s known all his life, Lucas is assumed to be guilty by pretty much everyone, barring his loyal son and a friend.
These two are seen as the few pillars of reason in a world that has suddenly shifted to a dark side of irrational hate and fear.
In one hard to watch scene, he’s attacked in a supermarket by its employees who don’t want his ‘sort’ there. He’s shunned by the small, local community, even as their kids, reflecting the hysteria of their parents, fantasize about him having abused them in the cellar of his house. (And as it turns out, his house has no cellar)
“The Hunt” follows Lucas’ story as his life shreds. The movie begins with a deer hunt; we quickly realize that he has become the animal. He is the hunt.
For if Islamic Jihad is the terrorism that forms the backdrop of our modern lives, pedophilia has become its private counterpart. And, in a reaction to the decades (centuries?) in which pedophiles were allowed to get away with their abusive behavior, shielded by cassocks, fame and incompetent policing, nowadays the tendency is to assume that the accuser is justified.
The innocence of the child carries an assumption of honesty and easily overwhelms adult denial.
And this is the position that Lucas finds himself in. He is a lone figure trying to stand up to the zeitgeist of the times with its demands for blood and its assumption of guilt.
This is one of those beautifully well-constructed movies – every scene fits perfectly in place to establish context, illustrate character and allow the meaning of the story to unfold at its own tensely leisurely pace.